The CFC men's team won this second-round match in the U.S. Open Cup. They face the Harrisburg City Islanders for the third round, at Finley June 1.

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My first Chattanooga Football Club game

Home game schedule

June 1: vs. Harrisburg City Islanders (Open Cup)

June 4: vs. Memphis City FC

June 7: vs. Knoxville Force

June 18: vs. Birmingham Hammers

July 2: vs. New Orleans Jesters

July 14: vs. Tigres UANL (Reserves) (Friendly)

All games start at 7:30 p.m.

I have a confession to make: I am not a sports person. While I enjoy the camaraderie, crazy customs and adrenaline, I don't know much about the rules, players or plays. (In fact, I was surprised to see the clock counting up instead of down at Finley when I went to my first Chattanooga Football Club match for this column.)

So I hope I don't get booed off the playing field for my next confession: At that first home game for the CFC on May 18, I left "early," just before the two 15-minute overtimes — which led to the only points scored. Yes, our team ended up bringing home the win 4-1 in the second-round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game against Reading United A.C., and I missed it. But I learned an important lesson: Never call it over till the final buzzer rings.

Growing up, the only time we watched sports was if the Steelers were playing in the Super Bowl. These days, dating a die-hard Tennessee Titans fan, my sports experience has grown a little bit, while my knowledge has stayed essentially nil. But I have had enough other types of exposure to know that the game that is America's bread and butter — the last three Super Bowls hold the top spots for most-watched events in U.S. television history — is not what the rest of the world thinks of when they think football.

While in college, I studied abroad in Murcia, Spain, for several months. The day we arrived, we found the city in an all-out uproar. It just so happened that the local soccer team had just finished a match against their main rival — and won. It was a Sunday, a day when most things would normally be closed, but every door was flung open and people spilled onto the streets. So many people! The streets were overtaken by them, and on every corner was a stand offering food, drinks, whatever you needed to complete your celebration. The joyous mood was inescapable. A nearby fountain had been turned into a raucous dance club complete with air horns and drums. Children soaked up all the excitement as they ran freely, laughing and playing as the adults became children themselves in their own unabashed revelry. Someone had poured dish detergent into the fountain and people were splashing about in the growing froth of foam, sending bubbles floating over the square like a magical cloud.

It was my first taste of true fandom. I remember feeling so grateful for that glimpse into such a culture.

Despite being a non-sports person, I've heard of the Chattahooligans, the local group of fans that turns up at every CFC home game to cheer and chant the team — and everyone in the stands — on. They're a notoriously energetic bunch. A quick scroll through the group's Facebook posts from that day shows the enthusiasm these cheerleaders have for the game-day experience. People start rolling into the parking lot early that afternoon to set up grills and coolers, walk the lot in their team merchandise and start practicing the group's many theme songs. Just before game time, they congregate to raise their battle cries in an energizing pep rally of sorts. Then, the man with the megaphone hops down from his pulpit on some vehicle or another and leads the Hooligans into the stands, cheering all the way, the rumble of drums setting a cadence for their chants. (They even have their own drummer boys!)

For the entire duration of the game — 90 minutes of play time plus 30 minutes of halftime, and, I can only imagine, the 30 minutes of overtime — their rowdy bawls of support never wavered. It was almost a main act in itself, trying to untangle their chants from the popular songs they'd bent to their words. (You can print off a copy of the songbook at But it also made me concentrate on what was going on down on the field. I watched as the ball was lobbed back and forth in sweeping arcs; as chiseled thighs and dancing feet collided in search of the kick that would send the ball soaring into the net. There was a graceful power to everything the players did. Even their headbutts and chest traps of the ball looked like an elegant game of hacky sack, and we all know "elegant" isn't a word normally used in conjunction with that high school phenomenon.

It seems I'd been treated to another taste of true fandom, and it tasted even better than winning.